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From Joy To Pain And Back Again

Life and death on Oct. 26: How one day turned great joy into great pain, then great pain into great joy.


In 1965, 20-year-old Carolyn was traveling with friends in Germany when she met a man in a bar. He helps her request a song from the band, and later in her journal she describes him as a “very quiet, nice person” whom she hopes to see again in Greece.

In Athens he waits a week, visiting the same spot every day at noon until she arrives. Then Carolyn decides to leave her friends and travel through Turkey with this “beautiful person who enjoys meeting and talking to people, and looks for the good things that happen.”

By the time they reach Syria she describes herself as “in love” with the 27-year-old Dane who speaks English with a Scottish accent and hitchhikes in a kilt

“I enjoy being with him so much. We don’t have to talk to each other, we can sit in silence for a long time, each having their own thoughts.” Her journal entries end soon after, but not their romance.

On Oct. 26, 1965, the pair married in Scotland, and Carolyn finally returns to Los Angeles in early 1966 with a husband.


Nine months after her wedding, Carolyn had a baby girl whose lungs could not keep her alive. But her third girl had lungs that worked too well, because Justine screamed all day, only sleeping when too exhausted to wail.

One morning when she was 15, Justine felt like screaming all day again. Already angry that her mother was gone birding, she got even angrier when Carolyn didn’t return in time for their day trip.

“But you’re not here, are you,” she tells her mother’s note promising to be home by 10. Soon after Justine starts to get ready anyway, there is a knock on the bathroom door. Thinking it is her mother, she begins stoking her anger again until it is drowned by the fear in her father’s voice.

“I need you to come out here, please. There are men here. There’s been an accident. Your mother’s not coming home.” 

The day before, exactly 20 years after her wedding, on Oct. 26, 1985, Carolyn was killed in a car crash.

As soon as the deputies left her house, Justine sneaked into her parents’ bedroom to pull out her mother’s pajamas and pillowcase, secreting them away to smell whenever she wanted.

The next day she went with her grandmother to see the body, but her father stayed home. “I want to remember her as she was,” he said of the adventurous American who had been his best friend for two decades.

After Justine carried her mother home in a box, the family scattered her ashes on Carolyn’s favorite beach, where she had gone every weekend at dawn to help save a small population of endangered shorebirds.

Decades later when Justine last saw her father, he said his wife had been hovering at his bedside, trying to tell him something.

“I should have gone to see her after. You were right to go.”

“No, dad, you were right,” she said, wishing she still saw freckles instead of black bruises on her mother’s cheeks.

When her father died, Justine brought his ashes to the same beach to finally reunite him with his wife on what would have been their 49th wedding anniversary: Oct. 26, 2014.

Sarah and Harvey

Also on Oct. 26, 2014, Sarah was recovering from what felt like a car crash: The birth of her first son.

“All those women who told me how beautiful childbirth is, I thought they were full of shit!” she remembers thinking as she lay in the hospital after 26 hours of labor, unable to feel her legs or hear her baby crying.

“Babies are supposed to cry, why isn’t he crying?” she wonders as the ever-growing number of staff in the room struggled to get her boy to breathe. Finally she heard him cry, and waited anxiously for them to give him back to her, looking forward to finally holding and trying to feed him.

But they said he needed to go to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and “only let me hold him for a second or two.”

After a week in the NICU, her baby finally came home, but his breathing problems continued. Sarah said it took two years for her to emerge from the tunnel of trauma, finally pulled through by the need to keep up with a now thriving and determined young boy.

“He stubbornly keeps trying to get what he wants,” said Sarah, both awed and frustrated by her son’s drive and focus. “He is smart in ways I have never been, and I love that so much. I am very lucky that I get to be with Harvey.”

(more writing by Justine here:

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